It's a Tot Kind of World for PBS

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, July 14, 2005


Day 2 of Summer TV Press Tour 2005 began so quietly you could hear the small exotic birds caged downstairs at the Beverly Hilton Hotel chirruping pleas to be set free. Upstairs, "Saturday Night Live" writer turned children's programming guru Mitchell Kriegman (creator of "Clarissa Explains It All" and "Book of Pooh" and former head writer on "Rugrats," "Ren and Stimpy" and "Doug") pitched his new PBS show "It's a Big, Big World," about a bunch of adorable animals that live in a giant tree -- a metaphor for Earth -- and will teach children geography and science while giving them "a positive sense of the world."

The animals on the show, which debuts in January, are large bunraku-style puppets, each controlled by two or three puppeteers.

The Men Who Cover Television -- nearly all of the Reporters Who Cover Television -- do not, as a group, enjoy attending press tour sessions on children's programming. They avoid them whenever possible. The Men Who Cover Television have, over the years, taken a strong anti-tot position, the result no doubt of being subjected to all those TV shows about precocious moppets living with their all-suffering moms and knucklehead dads. You can see their point.

On the other hand, PBS served breakfast at Wednesday's "It's a Big, Big World" session. It's a well-known fact that if you make a noise like a scrambled egg within a city block of the TV press tour, reporters and critics come rushing out of their hotel rooms, salivating like Pavlov's dog.

So the "It's a Big, Big World" session was pretty well attended, considering it is a kids' show, and the Men Who Cover Television did their best to make the most of the session, asking Kriegman whether the show would deal with the situation in Iraq and if it would include jokes that parents would get but kiddies would not, kind of like "The Simpsons," and cringing only slightly when he explained that the father figure on the show is a giant sloth named Snook.

Rupert Everett will star as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC's latest incarnation of the Victorian super-sleuth. The adaptation of "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking" will air as part of "Masterpiece Theatre," PBS co-chief programming exec Coby Atlas announced Wednesday.

Sure, this poses a challenge for PBS, which must now find a "Masterpiece Theatre" production starring a homophobic actor to preserve that perfect "balance" demanded by Corporation for Public Broadcasting chief Ken Tomlinson. And yet we were thrilled to hear that Everett would take on the role held for years on PBS by Jeremy Brett and hope Everett does several more episodes.

And Helen Mirren will be back for the last-and-this-time-we-really-mean-it season of "Prime Suspect," Atlas said.

Viacom-owned BET has tapped independent filmmaker Reginald Hudlin to be the cable network's first president of entertainment.

The appointment marks BET President and CEO Debra Lee's first major hire since taking over from network founder Bob Johnson last month.

Despite the limited title, Hudlin oversees all aspects of BET's programming, including news and public affairs, music and entertainment, and reports directly to Lee.

The 43-year-old Hudlin says his top priority is to introduce more "cutting-edge" programming.

As for what constitutes cutting edge, Hudlin told The Post's John Maynard in Washington, it's "a show that makes you say, 'Oh, [poop].' "

Coincidentally, Wednesday at the press tour, Chuck D, co-founder of the rap group Public Enemy and host of PBS's upcoming "Get Up, Stand Up: The Story of Pop Music and Protest," shared his thoughts about BET.

Mr. D called it the "booty and thug network," adding that it's a "bad mark on black folks in this country."

After his Q&A session he continued in that vein, saying, "If BET disappeared off the face of the Earth we might be better off."

Hudlin has said he will look for new programming that broadens BET's audience beyond young blacks. "Go to any hip-hop concert featuring Snoop [Dogg] or Nelly and you'll find that 40 to 60 percent of the audience is white, and they know all the words. The new generation doesn't have the racial hang-ups of older generations," he said in an interview with the trade paper Variety.

Asked about expanding viewership, he told Maynard: "How did Jimi Hendrix appeal to white audiences? How did Miles Davis appeal to white audiences? How does Beyonce appeal to white audiences? If you do great work, you'll have all kinds of people who want to enjoy it."

Hudlin, who formed his own production company in 1995, directed several films including Paramount's "Boomerang," "The Ladies Man" and "Serving Sarah," as well as "House Party" and "The Great White Hype." (Paramount, like BET, is owned by Viacom.) He also directed episodes of Fox's "Bernie Mac Show" and the pilot episode of the upcoming Viacom-owned UPN series "Everybody Hates Chris," based on comedian Chris Rock's childhood.

One of Hudlin's recent collaborations was with "Boondocks" creator Aaron McGruder on an animated series based on the syndicated cartoon strip, which will debut later this year on cable's Cartoon Network.

"Boondocks" often takes BET to task for what the cartoonist feels is a negative portrayal of African Americans.

Hudlin said Wednesday that he thinks his hiring by BET was a "testimony of strength to say, 'Okay, you're so smart -- you come in and do better.'

"I think it's commendable that they would invite me in."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company